Power battle at the cost of stability
While political division is a global issue, recent events in Pakistan are unprecedented in the country’s politics. The events of May 9th are being spoken of as our version of the January 6th Capitol Hill riots. The army and Shehbaz Sharif government have labelled it a “black day.”
After the unceremonious arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan from inside an Islamabad court, his supporters countrywide protested, with pockets of violence towards army, civilian, municipal and other infrastructure. The scenes of a woman shaking the gates of the Army General Headquarters and the ransacking of the corps commander house in Lahore were unimaginable for a country where the army is taken seriously because of its political power. After-all, the military has ruled the country for about 32 years since independence in 1947, or about 45 percent of the time. This translates to three military coups. Those periods have included heavy-handedness towards citizenry.
The fragility of our democracy is seen at each transfer of power. The next government plays a game of tit-for-tat court cases, police raids, harassment and propaganda.
While the army’s role has been a constant for as long as most Pakistanis alive today can remember, citizens want some semblance of democracy and people power.
Imran Khan, for all his faults, represented for many people inside and outside the country a ray of hope. What they couldn’t and didn’t appreciate was his rise to power in what some called “the dirtiest election in years” with the support of the military as kingmakers. Pakistanis are tired of dynasties ruling them, and wanted a new face and name.
Peaceful transfer of power vs power battle
Khan’s eventual rise to the top job and his celebrity status, coupled with rhetoric that degraded his opponents, was a recipe for disaster. Both his opponents and him have used the judiciary, army and media to malign and bash each other as gangs, mafias, corrupt, “imported”, and just plainly incompetent.
While some of this is normal for a new democracy, that of emotions getting the better of politicians, what it also indicates to the Establishment (ie. deep state made up of military, intelligence and pro-military bodies, officials and civilians) is that maybe these men aren’t really ready for this sort of governance at all. The fragility of our democracy is seen at each transfer of power. The next government plays a game of tit-for-tat court cases, police raids, harassment and propaganda.
When they took over, Khan, Sharif and others spent precious time targeting each other by misusing the judiciary and state apparatus to silence their opponents.
Pakistanis are tired of dynasties ruling them, and wanted a new face and name.
Karma, Disrespect or Accountability?
The image of police breaking into a court to arrest Khan has been perceived in a number of ways. To his opponents this is karma for the way his opponents were targets by the judiciary during his tenure. To his supporters, it is a disgusting display of the disrespect of the judiciary. They would argue that even if he should have been arrested, it needn’t have been from inside a court. And lastly, to others this shows even the powerful can be held to account for their wrongs.
What all of this boils down to is that the Pakistani nation has been pushed ever further into a black hole of polarisation, partisanship and disunity. And every single one of the above are to blame. There are no innocent parties here.
If, as each of this country’s politicians and organisations claim, they were really looking to sacrifice themselves for the betterment of this country, their actions and rhetoric would’ve sounded and looked drastically different.
Media: Divisive or Non-Partisan?
Media has helped spread the hateful rhetoric. Partisan journalists, pundits and commentators are ever-more sensationalist and disdainful. We need non-partisan, responsible punditry, journalism and political commentary. And yet, the solution is not to now throw everyone who has criticized the government and army in jail. There must be across-the-board accountability and standards of fairness in media, while ensuring free speech.
Pakistan is teetering on the edge of economic disaster and a disturbingly large portion of its population are still living at or under the poverty line (World Bank) and are illiterate. Instead of coming together as a country, our opposition, government and army want you to believe their fight is the important fight and media is fanning this divide rather than responsibly facilitating a civilised debate. One wonders how burning infrastructure or jailing opposition politicians makes the economy better. One must ponder at this battle for power, as Pakistanis struggle to afford the basics they need to feed themselves and their children. Warnings of another wave of a brain drain where our smartest and brightest leave are only one effect.
What next? Cooler heads should prevail!
It is time for some self-reflection by all Pakistani officials regarding their words, actions and intentions. Voices calling for cooler heads, dialogue and elections to once again centre the citizenry instead of politicians must be highlighted. Pakistan does not need cults of personality surrounding any institution or person. It needs mature leadership, supported by the majority, which can bring the country forward. The media and people must support this effort. The alternative scenario is disastrous and will engulf even the most powerful.
'Alumni Voices' is a series of articles written by Pakistani professionals from different walks of life on their perspective on current affairs of the country. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.